Cambrian: Opinion

An outdoor enthusiast’s best memories of California’s national parks

From a trip to Half Dome in 1988.
From a trip to Half Dome in 1988.

“National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” — Wallace Stegner

This month, the National Park Service celebrates 100 years. It was formed Aug. 25, 1916, by Congress under the National Park Service Organic Act, within the Department of the Interior. President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill that mandated the agency “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

The National Park Service system is considered to be a national treasure, and some of the more famous national parks and monuments are referred to as “crown jewels.”

Yellowstone National Park, formed in 1872, is the first designated national park in the United States. However, the first time federal funds were used to purchase land strictly for conservation was in 1864 when U.S. Sen. John Conness of California requested federal funds to purchase and preserve Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of giant Sequoia trees.

This precedent paved the way for the formation of the National Park Service. Yosemite was designated as a national park in 1890.

Reading about the 100-year celebration of the National Park Service gave me reason to reminisce about my many good times in California’s national parks. One of my early childhood memories was catching a small snake when camping in Sequoia.

As a teen, I went on a trip to Mount Lassen and got a close look at the volcanic crater. I was lucky to go to Death Valley during a rare wildflower bloom in the spring of 1990. I loved my job as a biologist studying desert tortoises in Joshua Tree and the Mojave Desert. No scuba diver’s life is complete without an underwater trip to the Channel Islands — one of the best dive spots in the world. And then there is Pinnacles, just a two-hour drive from Cambria.

My richest memories are from Yosemite. I remember sleeping in those moldy canvas-walled tent cabins with my family and seeing bears on the valley floor. I remember my first time hiking the Vernal Fall Trail (and getting soaked), and the first time I completed the hike to Half Dome. Not long ago, we brought the next generation on their first trip to Yosemite, posing in front of one of the largest and oldest redwood trees in the world.

California has nine national parks and a large handful of national monuments, historic sites, preserves, recreation areas and seashores. How many have you been to? Why not put visiting all of California’s crown jewels on your bucket list? To learn more, visit

A good way to learn more about national parks is the PBS film series “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” by Ken Burns.

Michele Roest’s column appears on the second Thursday each month and is special to The Cambrian.

California’s national parks

  • Channel Islands National Park
  • Death Valley National Park
  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Kings Canyon National Park
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park
  • Pinnacles National Park
  • Redwood National and State Parks
  • Sequoia National Park
  • Yosemite National Park